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Every month they gather over good food and wine to discuss their favorite books: six very different women—not quite friends, not quite strangers. Enid is a successful psychiatrist, brilliant yet inexplicably dissatisfied; Donna, torn between two lovers, dreams of family but fears commitment; Rina's destructive fantasies may be her downfall; Pat and Hedy are sisters as dissimilar as they are competitive; and Connie is the envy of all her friends with the perfect career, the perfect family, the perfect life. ...
Every month they gather over good food and wine to discuss their favorite books: six very different women—not quite friends, not quite strangers. Enid is a successful psychiatrist, brilliant yet inexplicably dissatisfied; Donna, torn between two lovers, dreams of family but fears commitment; Rina's destructive fantasies may be her downfall; Pat and Hedy are sisters as dissimilar as they are competitive; and Connie is the envy of all her friends with the perfect career, the perfect family, the perfect life. Brought together by their love of literature, they share a deep understanding of one another or so they think.
Then Connie, the woman seemingly so happy, announces that she is divorcing her husband for reasons she refuses to share.
The ensuing drama that unfolds forces each woman to explore the secrets shaping and burdening her life as they speculate about what could have happened—and what, in their own circumstances, would constitute the ultimate betrayal.
Trish Bartlett glanced at her watch as she hurried up East Eighty-Third Street. A quarter to six. She was not late but she didn't want to be either exactly on time or the first to arrive. She slowed her pace and lingered at the Korean market on Cynthia's corner, where she appraised the cut flowers, the irises wilting and fading, the last roses of the season already shedding their petals. She settled at last on a pot of amber-colored zinnias that would, she decided, make a festive centerpiece for the dinner that marked their first book club meeting of the year. But even as she paid for it, she regretted the purchase. Knowing Cynthia, there would be an expensive flower arrangement, color-coded to match the table linens and china. That was Cynthia's style—a casual elegance, easily achieved with a flash of plastic and the knowledge that Mae, her housekeeper, would be on hand to clip the stems and position the vase in exactly the right place on the tastefully set table.
Trish balanced the flowers and shifted her briefcase, grimacing at its weight. It bulged with the files of patients, which she was determined to update that night. There would be little enough time after the book club, after Jason's swift bout of passion (a given on nights when she returned late from a meeting, an assertion of his power over her, compensation for his moody solitude), after comforting Mandy, who inevitably, perhaps instinctively, wakened when her parents' lovemaking had reached its weary climax. Still, the patient records had to be completed. A state inspection of the hospital loomed and her regular hours were overscheduled, hardly allowing time for the inevitable emergencies. She had dealt with two that very afternoon—a thirteen-year-old girl whose self-mutilation had escalated to what appeared to be an actual suicide attempt, and an anorexic Sarah Lawrence student who had collapsed in her dorm, unable to speak, unable to stop weeping.
"I chose the wrong profession," Trish told herself bitterly as she waited for the light to change. "Cynthia made the right choice, damn her." She spoke the last two words aloud and the harshness of her own voice startled her. Cynthia, after all, was her friend, her very good friend.
"Just whom are you damning?"
Jen, who must have been walking just a few paces behind, sidled up to her and grinned mischievously. Although she carried her own oversize leather portfolio, she relieved Trish of the briefcase so that she could hold the zinnias more easily.
"Jen. Don't sneak up on your friends like that! I was just thinking about some idiot at the hospital who screwed up a diagnosis," Trish lied. "No biggie."
She stooped slightly and dropped a kiss on her diminutive friend's head, pleased to have these few moments alone with her before the frenetic rush of hugs and breathless greetings as the members of the book club reconvened after the summer hiatus, each of the women clutching a much underlined, dog-eared paperback of Anna Karenina. Of all the members of the group, Trish felt closest to Jen, who was never demanding, never confrontational, as calmly acquiescent in interchanges as she was with Ian, her longtime partner.
"You look terrific, Jen. How was the summer?"
Elfin, smiling Jen did look wonderful. The sun had brushed her skin to a rose-gold hue and her short dark hair curled about her head in a helmet of ringlets; a coral knit dress hugged her small compact body.
"Not bad. A couple of good weekends and a really boring stretch at the Rhode Island shore. Ian had a sudden urge to paint seascapes and someone lent him a shack near Westerly. So he painted and I read Anna Karenina and tried to keep the sand out of my bathing suit. Do you think the lovely Anna ever worried about getting sand up her crotch?"
"If she did, she wouldn't have talked about it," Trish replied, laughing. "Count Leo wasn't too strong on intimacy between women."
"Let's talk about that tonight. After the cassoulet. That's the menu. Cynthia said it was to celebrate the first meeting of the year. Although she didn't look all that celebratory when I saw her at the office today. Something was bugging her. Maybe her new assistant is too smart or too pretty or both."
"I can't recall ever seeing our Princess Cynthia bugged by anything," Trish reflected. "My professional opinion is that she's free of that All About Eve syndrome."
Jen frowned and looked up at the tall elm that stood sentinel in front of Cynthia's town house. The narrow leaves were gold-edged and trembled in the early evening breeze. Several, newly fallen, skittered across the pavement, brittle reminders of encroaching autumn. Although the air was warm, she shivered involuntarily.
"Then you're doing another project with her?" Trish asked.
"There's always another project for Cynthia. No rest for the weary or for the marketing director of Nightingale's. This time she's rushing through a Thanksgiving catalog—turkey-shaped pot holders, pumpkin-colored satin aprons—upscale kitchen stuff for upscale customers who will never go near a kitchen. It's a close deadline and I'll probably be up all night working on it, but I'm not complaining. We can use the money. Ian hasn't sold anything for a couple of months now and things are sort of tight. I'm glad to have the work. A lot of freelance graphic designers are hurting now, so I'm pretty lucky that Cynthia knows my phone number by heart."
"And Cynthia's pretty lucky to have you," Trish insisted loyally.
She had seen the brochures and catalogs Jen produced so effortlessly and she admired her friend's skill. Like many scientists, she was awed by artistic talent, by the intuitive creativity that was totally independent of data, research or experiment but mysteriously flew onto canvas and paper.
"Cynthia's a pretty lucky lady in general," Jen said without bitterness, and Trish nodded and marveled at Jen's generosity. Her own appraisal of Cynthia's life was tinged with an envy that she supposed was understandable but hardly admirable.
The truth was that Cynthia did have it all—the great job as marketing director of Nightingale's, the high-end boutique department store, with the great salary and even greater perks. There was Eric, the perfect handsome husband whose documentary films garnered award after award. Liza and Julie, the golden-haired twin girls who were the same age as Mandy but who were as self-assured as Mandy was shy (the twins, Trish was certain, never wakened in the darkness, fearful and trembling.) And, of course, there was Mae, the live-in housekeeper assisted by a procession of European au pairs who spoke charmingly accented English and took exquisite care of the children and of the wide-windowed, many-roomed house, with the gleaming hardwood floors and the terrace that led out to an elegantly landscaped garden. And there were, of course, trips to exotic locations for the premieres of Eric's films or the launching of new Nightingale's lines. A fairy-tale life replete with the fairy-tale echo— Cynthia was as good and generous as she was fortunate.
Trish's own envy mystified her. She had, she knew, no real reason to envy Cynthia. She herself was living the life she had envisaged during her dreamy undergraduate days when medical school and marriage lay in the distant future and she was uncertain that either could be attained. Even in the nineties, women med students had an uphill climb, and for scholarship students like herself the ascent had been that much steeper. It amazed her still that against all odds she had her career, Jason's ring snug upon her finger, and Mandy's smiling kindergarten portrait, discreetly placed on her desk. Jason's work was not as glamorous as Eric's, but he was successfully chairing his own venture capital group, his name appeared occasionally in the Wall Street Journal, and recently he had been urging her to look at larger co-ops and to think of buying a summer place in the Berkshires. They were on their way, he confided after each financial triumph, his cheeks ruddy with success as though he were a mountain climber approaching a long, elusive peak. Always Trish offered him an affectionate hug, a warm smile of approval, willing her enthusiasm to match his own. He's terrific, she told herself severely. I have a terrific husband.
And Mandy was a precocious and affectionate child (Cynthia's twins, Trish secretly thought, were a bit cold, or what her colleagues in child psychology would call emotionally stingy.) Trish knew herself to be admired by the young women interns on her staff. One attractive psychiatric resident had even styled her hair in imitation of Trish's shaggy layered cut. She overheard them speaking softly, admiringly, of her ability to juggle family and career. Her success offered them hope. "She has such a terrific life," she had overheard one intern say wistfully to another. "She was smart to put off having a kid until she was through with her residency and on staff." And it was true. I have a terrific life, she told herself. It was a mantra that, if repeated often enough, she might come to believe.
Why then did she find herself comparing her life to Cynthia's? Why did she struggle each morning to free herself from the cocoon of sadness that ensnared her in the night? She shrugged. Exhaustion, perhaps. Too frenetic a pace. She should think about getting more help at home. They could afford it. This very evening she would ask Cynthia for the name of the agency that provided her with all those attractive, helpful au pairs.
Her mood lifted, as though the fleeting thought was a decision taken, and she smiled at Jen as they climbed the broad stone steps to the polished oak door. It was Jen who lifted the heavy brass knocker, burnished to a subtle glow. The windows were open and they heard the strains of a simplified "Für Elise" plucked from the strings of small Suzuki violins. The twins were practicing and their music wafted through the soft evening air.
The aroma of roasting meat mingled with mysterious spices teased their nostrils and Trish realized that she was hungry. She tried to remember whether she had eaten lunch and could recall only nibbling an apple between a conference with a distraught parent and a consultation with a gastroenterologist concerned about the dietary needs of a bulimic patient. She had referred him to Donna, who would, no doubt, express her annoyance at the intrusion at some point during the book club gathering, probably between the dessert and the analysis of Anna Karenina.
It was, in fact, Donna who opened the door to them and beamed a welcome, hugging Jen and placing a col-legial (and perhaps forgiving) arm on Trish's shoulder. It occurred to Trish, not for the first time, that Donna took on a different persona when she left the hospital. At work in her nutritionist's office, its institutional green walls devoid of anything except charts of food pyramids and stark drawings of the digestive system, Donna confined her ash-blond hair to a severe bun. Her pale skin was washed free of makeup, a long white lab coat concealed her soft and appealing plumpness, and high white oxford shoes reached her slender ankles. But here in Cynthia's entryway, her loosened hair caped her shoulders in silken sheaths, pale blue eye shadow that exactly matched her large eyes dusted her eyelids, and blush, subtly applied, rouged her high cheekbones. She wore a pale violet breast-hugging sweater and matching pants; flat-heeled shoes of the same color caressed her feet like the softest of gloves. She had the look of a woman who had dressed for a man, and surely one of the two men in her life would be waiting for her after tonight's meeting, a patient lover, summoned by cell phone to the corner of East Eighty-Third Street—either Tim, the jazz musician, or Ray, the scholarly neurologist. She expertly juggled the hours of her evenings, the evenings of her week; dinner with Ray, a concert with Tim, alternate weekends spent with one or the other of the two men, to the wonder and admiration of the other women. They would not want Donna's life, they assured one another, but they marveled at the skill with which she managed it. Of course, they told themselves, Donna was younger than they were, which might account for her resilience. She and Rina were the babies of the group, tiptoeing their way through the treacherous terrain of their early thirties.
"You're late," she gently chided Trish and Jen. "Everyone else is here. Some of us are on our second glass of Chablis. And you missed Liza and Julie's duet."
"Probably they planned it that way," Elizabeth, Jen's sister, called caustically from the living room where she sat beside Rina on the leather couch.
Trish flashed Jen a commiserative glance. Elizabeth seldom missed an opportunity for a negative barb, a cynical thrust.
Trish marveled, not for the first time, at the complete dissimilarity between the sisters—tall Elizabeth with her mousy hair and tense, narrow face, and elfin Jen, relaxed and almost submissive, swift to laugh at herself and offer affection to others. They gave a new dimension to the nature-and-nurture argument so dear to the hearts of Trish's colleagues. It was difficult to believe that they had grown up in the same household, had the same parents, but then, of course, life had treated them very differently. She reminded herself to feel sorry for Elizabeth. It was not easy to be the mother of an autistic son and the wife of an uncompromising chauvinist like that son of a bitch, Bert.
And Elizabeth was a valuable member of the group, perceptive and insightful. She shared their addiction to literary analysis and in-depth reading. Jen had been right to ask her sister to join them when Carla, a former member, moved to Los Angeles after her divorce. The original book group had lost members over the years, and the women who took their places were carefully evaluated before being invited to join. They were, they told themselves, no ordinary group, gathering together to kill an evening, to fill time, to seek refuge from critical husbands and demanding children while idly discussing a new bestseller. They met because literature was their shared passion. Books were as important to them as breath itself. They shared the ability to immerse themselves in the lives of fictional characters, to argue passionately about the development of plots, about decisions taken, dilemmas resolved. Each of them brought unique insights, both personal and professional, to the titles they discussed, and Elizabeth, for all her sarcasm and rigidity, had an incisive intellect. Her own problems might overwhelm her, but she could deal easily with those of Anna Karenina. Trish wondered suddenly how Elizabeth, who had sacrificed her own life on the altar of her son's disability, perceived Anna's contemplated abandonment of her only child.
The basic premise of "Dinner with Anna Karenina" is a group of women get together each month for dinner and book discussion. However the real story lies beneath. The sudden separation of the stellar book club member and her perfect spouse, draw the women into more speculation and casual discussion than their actual book talk.
The books the women read are of the feminine kind, "Anna Karenina," "Madame Bovary," "Little Women," etc. "Dinner with Anna Karenina" aspires to be that kind of novel...the kind where the community of women is so nuanced and detailed as to be consumingly interesing. Gloria Goldreich does not bring forth the depth of character, plot, scene and dialog needed to make the book anything better than mediocre.
Interestingly, the copy of "Dinner with Anna Karenina" that I read contains a number of typographical or editing errors. The copy I read and the copy on which I am commenting, I note is a "reprint" (whatever that really means). For example, where the word "arranged" should be used, the word "ranged" is used. Blame it on spellcheck, I guess. Still, when I read a line about "Miranda Richardson" when it really should be "Natasha Richardson" (as in who it was sleeping with Liam Neeson), I get a little miffed. Combine that with a sentence or two that doesn't make sense and a few more spellcheck errors, I wonder about the quality control at the publishing house and ultimately their motive (profit???). Of course, the most aggregious error is the back cover which cites entirely different names for several of the characters in the book. I'm still shaking my head over that.
All in all, it's an afternoon or rainy day read, but not a story to be cherished.
Posted October 15, 2008
This is one of the most poorly written books I have ever read. Repetitive explanations of the characters' motivations and thoughts. Simplistic plot. Uninteresting characters who are just too good to be true. I agree with the reviewer who said it was an 8th grade reading level, although I think this gives the book way too much credit. The men were two-dimensional and not well developed. I really hated it and only kept reading because I could not believe it could not get any worse and yet, chapter by chapter, it did. In these difficult economic times, save your money.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2007
This story is a little slow at the beginning, but once it picks up speed, you're hooked. Give this one a try -- be patient -- I don't think you'll be disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2006
The premise of this book was so promising to me, so I just had to read it. I had a hard time really liking the characters, and I was really disappointed in the main character who made her husband leave. I found her shallow and proud. I kept reading waiting for it to get better, and it just didn't.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2006
The premise of the book is interesting and it starts out well. The various women are introduced immediately and the characterizations are distinctly drawn. However, after the third chapter the 'secret' becomes tiresome and wrung-out to the point that the reader doesn't care any more. The book needs more complex relationships and more subtle dialog. The writing throughout the book is too repetitive and dependent on the mechanics of the moment and uninteresting descriptions of food, clothing, furniture, and various miscellany. In an attempt to make the women's lives sound busy and cutting edge, Goldreich writes, 'the women whip out their pocket calendars and PDAs,' which sounds silly and lacks authenticity. I struggled to finish the last chapter, where of course, everything was wrapped up into a nice little package. While I enjoyed the discussions of the books in the 'book club,' I found myself wishing I were reading one of them, instead of 'Dinner with Anna Karenina.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
The six women who make up the book club meet monthly to discuss a chosen tale. Trish is married to Jason Donna has two men in her life Rina is a single mom Jen is married to Ian, Elizabeth has Bert. However, all envy the sixth member Cynthia. She has a great job as marketing director of Nightingale¿s Boutique department Store her sensitive husband Eric is a renowned documentary filmmaker and they have two perfect twin children. Thus the other five are stunned when Cynthia informs them that she is divorcing Eric, but she refuses to provide reasons beyond that she cannot forgive him................. The other five speculate on what he did, but Cynthia remains stubborn refusing to divulge her secret. After a time of failed sleuthing, each of the other five begins to look inward at their own flawed relationships wondering what they can do to strengthen them. No one knows why the perfect marriage dissolved during their DINNER WITH ANNA KARENINA, but no one wants to follow suit............... Once again the great Gloria Goldreich provides a powerful relationship drama starring a wounded woman who feels so betrayed that she no longer trusts the man she loves. Readers will join the quintet trying to learn what he did and how can he atone for his transgression that destroyed their marriage. However, the key to this deep tale is the ensemble cast that comes across as differing individuals with varying needs, worrying about their own relationships with loved ones. Fans of powerful character studies will want to read this strong look at trust lost............ Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 27, 2009
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